Prashant Sanwal at the helm of Zee's Alpha channels

By , agencyfaqs! | In | June 12, 2002
The appointment shows ZTL's focus on the local advertising market

After moving out from Sony Entertainment Television (SET), where he was part of CEO Kunal Dasgupta's dream team that made Sony a name to contend with in Indian television, Prashant Sanwal is moving again. After a brief stint at the Manoranjan, Aur Kya (MAK) channel, which has been threatening to launch itself on the television channel scene for quite some time now, Sanwal is headed for rival Zee Television. He will be the director of Zee's regional language Alpha channels, and will report directly to group broadcasting CEO, Zee Telefilms Ltd, Sandeep Goyal.

Sanwal was unavailable for comment on his new assignment. Sanwal, who was involved in marketing in Sony, also has a considerable programming background, and this was a key factor in his appointment.

Currently, there are four Alpha channels, Alpha Marathi, Alpha Gujarati, Alpha Punjabi, and Alpha Bangla. The four Alpha channels have performed well in terms of marketshare despite stiff competition from other regional channels, especially DD. For example, Alpha Marathi, has nearly 50 per cent of the total viewership in Maharashtra, beating DD hands down. However, in Bengali, the channel is a distant second to DD.

Analysts see the appointment as indicative of Zee's new focus on the Alpha channels, spurred by two factors - the recent Government decision to allow uplinking from within the country, and the rise of the local advertising market, even as the national market is growing sluggishly.
This is what makes Sanwal's appointment challenging. Sanwal will have to garner advertisement from the Rs 3,000-crore local advertising market that has been clipping along at an average growth rate of 20 per cent annually. Zee Alpha will offer several avenues such as bargain hours, classifieds, and even matrimonials on the Alpha channels to cut into this new lucrative source of advertisement revenue.

However, competition is extremely stiff, from new media such as FM radio, and older ones such as the local cable operator, billboards, events, and print.

This is where the recent decisions of the Information & Broadcasting Ministry come in. In December last year, the I&B Ministry granted Zee permission to uplink directly through the Essel Shyam Teleport located at Noida, near New Delhi. Zee Telefilms will save an estimated $2 to $3 million annually as a result of this decision. The December decision allowed Zee News, Alpha Marathi, Alpha Gujarati, Alpha Punjabi, Alpha Bangla, Zee Music and Zed TV to uplink from Noida. Earlier, these channels were uplinked from Singapore.

Recently, the I&B ministry has given Zee permission to uplink four more channels from Noida, starting this month. These channels are Kaveri (Kannada), Bharati (Tamil), and Alpha Krishna and Alpha Urdu, which still have to debut on the Alpha platform.

The key advantage of uplinking from within the country is that it opens television advertising to the local advertiser. For a channel that is uplinked from abroad, a local advertiser has to get permission from the RBI and also have exporter status to advertise. On the other hand, for channels that are uplinked from within the country, local advertisers can easily buy airtime, and only have to pay in rupees.

The appointment of Sanwal, say analysts, has to be seen in this background. With the local market opening up, Zee must attract local advertising. And with the crunch in national advertising, local advertisers are being aggressively wooed by all media. Ironcially, local cable TV operators, who operate their own rough and ready channels, profit from local advertising in a big way. It is estimated that a screening of a blockbuster movie, often pirated by a local television cable operator can garner up to Rs 30 lakh in advertisement revenue from city-based businesses. However, the key advantage that Alpha has is that it belongs to the Zee bouquet. "What Zee will bring to this market is brand value. That is likely to bring in a lot of local advertisers," points out a senior media planner.

Such revenue will be crucial. Though several regional channels launched in the first flush of liberalisation, a chronic lack of funds, and an inability to compete with Hindi channels, has hit regional channels hard. Just to take one example of a regional network that is floundering despite a hyped up launch, there is TARA Network, floated by Rathikant Basu's Broadcast Worldwide. But Alpha's main competition in the regional market is ETV, which also enjoys the support of a major media player - the Hyderabad-based Eenadu Group.

Alpha and Eenadu have been battling it out for the top spot. Now the main challenge is to bring more revenue in. That will depend perhaps on how well Sanwal can convince the local sareewala. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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